Friday, February 5, 2016

11/22/63 by Stephen King

I resisted reading this book. Yes, I did. I should really love Stephen King, and I enjoyed reading The Stand, but there is something terrifying about King's books. He has a "scary" reputation, and for the longest time, I didn't want to read his books in fear that I would be scared out of my mind.

I also stumbled onto the IT movie when I was much too young to watch it and it was so scary I couldn't sleep for weeks. Now that I think about that, I think that movie single handedly kept me away from his books all these years.

Finally, a weird side note, I remember in school, at some point, there was a discussion about Stephen King and that he "had ghost writers" to write his books for him and that there was no way he could have written all of those books himself. I seriously think this was a conversation in elementary school, but maybe it was middle school? I don't even know how those books came up, or why a bunch of kids were discussing the merits of King's work. Odd what you remember. I no longer think that, btw.

Anyway, our (Josh and I's) first Christmas together, 4 years ago, when we were just boyfriend and girlfriend, I got him this book. It was on his wishlist and it had just come out. I think it's a cool gift for someone to get you a new book on the book shelf. They are normally expensive and not usually in paperback. He read it, and told him that it was so good, but incredibly sad.

And I just... avoided reading it. Along with the fear of being scared out of my mind, my continued association of the IT movie and scared to go to sleep for a week with Stephen King, I also don't like reading sad books. When my husband says something that is "really sad," I know it's super sad and not me thinking it's just sad, so I don't want to read it.

However, Hulu is coming out with an 8 part miniseries of the book with James Franco, and of course, I have to do a "Which is Better?" review of the show versus the book. So that meant I found the hardback I so lovingly gave my husband 4 years ago, dusted it off and began reading.

The story is about a man named Jake Epping, who recently divorced his alcoholic wife. His wife paints him as an unfeeling man who doesn't cry, and a man that doesn't cry can't have feelings. This sort of writing, a first person point of view discussing the perception of another character is tricky and King has the chops to do it. The reader is then introduced to a man named Al Templeton, who overnight, looks like he's knocking on death's door. He shut down his diner, which for years, sold food for disturbingly low prices, so low that it was widely speculated that he killed pets or his food was rancid. He calls Jake, and tells him to meet him at the bar. He has something to show him, which is a pantry that leads to another time period. From there, Al wants Jake to do one thing; stop the assassination of JFK.

I am particularly impressed with King's research into late 1950s and early 1960s. He did an extensive job of researching Oswald's whereabout, his philosophies and more importantly, the events leading up to that fateful day. I was also fascinated with Oswald's origin story, so to speak, and as a horror writer, King expertly touched on his psychotic, smothering mother as one of the fuses to be lit that led up to his decision to assassinate Kennedy.

My only gripe with Al's mantra that Kennedy surviving would fix everything, and it might have been
ignored because as a character stated in the book, "people see what they want to see," is that Civil Rights Acts were passed due to the combination of Kennedy's death and the whole country mourning along with LBJ's powerful personality. Before that, it was going to be almost impossible. Maybe Al thought, naively, I think, that it would still be passed regardless.

I enjoyed reading Jake's interpretation of the culture during that time as a man traveling back in time to live it. I'm unsure if King deliberately did this, but I felt like the "Land of Ago" was a bit too romanticized. That everything was perfect and everything was wholesome and joyful, and it may have just been Jake's perspective of the time because he was in love.

However, and I'm not sure if it would truly fit into the story, because it's the experience of a white man during the late 1950s and early 1960s, I wish there more about the struggle for civil rights in any capacity. Any mention of segregation, or voting rights was sort of an afterthought and it seems to be largely ignored. Now, it might be because many white people in the south that lived in isolated towns like Jodie wouldn't really talk about the marches or the struggle, or any conversation would steer in one, anti-civil rights way.

Finally, the science fiction and fantasy elements of the book appear in the right amount. I love King's explanations of time travel, and the appearance of the Yellow Card Man and the drive of time to "right itself" is done in the way only King can do it. I also loved the silent horror of the book that isn't in your face but lurking in the shadows as you read. You know the character is playing with fire, and things he doesn't understand, but you are powerless to stop it.

I don't want to give too much away because I think if you like fiction, historical fiction, time travel fantasy with a dash of thriller thrown in, this would be a good book for you, and I wouldn't want to spoil it. Read this book as soon as you can. You won't regret it.

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